To be or not to be… Catholic

I’ve always had a small penchant for the issue of ‘identity’. I guess we all, as teenagers, and even sometimes beyond those ghastly teenage years, conduct those internal debates about ‘Who the hell am I?’. As a Korean living in Mauritania, going to a French school and spending a lot of time in my last years with American Peace Corps, and then moving to Korea without the will to adjust myself for quite a long time, it is safe to say that I haven’t really found the answer to that question. However, I have found that toying with this question solely based on countries is now outdated and decided to cast my attention on another element that was dear to my heart at some point in my life: religion.

My family has never been very religious, my parents didn’t have a religion for the longest time (actually, technically, I think it’s fair to say that my dad still doesn’t). Mom started going to the only Catholic church in Nouadhibou firstly out of curiosity and secondly because she thought it was another way to learn French. But I guess the Catholic church lingered pretty much around my childhood. We wouldn’t miss Sunday masses if we could help it, and we were quite close with the priests and nuns there. I was never really open about it though, living in a Muslim country and all, and it’s something that was part of me but that didn’t require too much of my attention or acknowledgement, which was fine with me.

In Korea though, I went through this major phase of about 3 years during which I saw myself as a devout Catholic and it was like a whole new divine revelation. I was like the ‘prodigal child’ who had made it back home, God was awesome and He was everywhere. I still was not comfortable, though, with praying before meals in front of people who were not Catholic, and I didn’t advertise me going to religion-related meetings (the ‘Oh, I have this thing’ worked pretty well for me back then too). I’ve also always had an aversion to the numerous prayers and unnecessary rituals Korean Catholic churches seem to love and frankly, spend too much time on. And, like everything else I go crazy for, the flame slowly died, and although I may not have been proud of it, I didn’t really feel sorry.

Yet, I guess ‘being Catholic’ was something I could not part with that easily. Even if I didn’t go to mass regularly, my answer was always ‘Catholic’ to the question ‘Do you have a religion?’, even if it was to show that I was now ‘a Catholic who doesn’t go to church that often’. And I felt that if someone I just met turned out to be Catholic, we would be closer friends and there was something else that was secretly awesome that we shared.

However, during a recent conversation with my sister that left us both depressed about how the world has gone mad and there are some very stupid people in this world, I have come to the conclusion and -actually quite difficult- decision that I wouldn’t be a Catholic anymore. It all had to do with this: “The Pope says gay people are not fully developed humans”. Seriously, forget all the fancy vocabulary and way of writing I’ve been trying to use so far, Major WTF, is the only thing that comes to my mind. How can one person say that? How can the so-called leader of a religion whose first credo is ‘Love’ say such a thing? I don’t care what the Bible says, that it is wrong for two men to be together or some shit I don’t actually care enough to quote the real thing. The thing is, as far as I was taught, the Bible is not God-made. It does talk about God, obviously, but most importantly, it mirrors the interpretation of what and how people thought and acted back then, when it was written. Clearly, I would like to believe we have evolved a bit from back then. Maybe back then, more than 2000 years ago, it was deemed ‘unnatural’. I guess, as unnatural as it was for a black man to be considered to have the same rights as a white man until the mid 1900s. People change, customs change, and so should religion. Plus, if, IF you REALLY have to put your blind faith in the Bible, no matter what, shouldn’t you learn more about how Jesus embraced the lepers and prostitutes when they were considered as the lowest class of people back then? (I’m not making a comparison gays=lepers/prostitutes here) And if we were to humor them, if, IF you REALLY think gays are ‘wrong’, shouldn’t you, erm, I don’t know, ‘forgive’ them? Moreover, isn’t it ironic to have Catholic priests comment and decide what ‘family values’ should be when clearly (and technically and officially) they cannot have ‘families’? With all due respect, what do they know about finding your soulmate and wanting to have and raise children with him/her? Plus, what about all those ‘families’ that so many pedophile priests are destroying? Shouldn’t the Catholic church focus its attention more on those issues? Or praying for world peace? Or to end famine? Don’t you have bigger, more important things to do than to meddle in other people’s business about who they want to spend the rest of their lives with? Why this obsession with such a personal matter? What have gays done to the Catholic church? Or to anyone for that matter? Are gays trying to conquer the world? Is that it? Is this why so many people devote their lives to negating them their basic rights? I just don’t get it.

After much debate with myself, I have decided that I did still believe in God, or a Greater Power, but I cannot choose to believe in a religion that claims such bullshit anymore. True, what the Pope says doesn’t represent the religion, but as a Catholic, you are bound to obey the Vatican and the Pope is considered as the ultimate authority, so either you’re in, or you’re out. So I guess I’m out. I would feel like cheating if I claimed to be Catholic and yet despise so many aspects of the Church. Plus, religion provides the advantage of a free choice, I can choose not to believe in, whereas for my nationality for instance, I cannot choose not to be of a certain nationality because the president of my country is an asshole.

It is a shame, and it has been a tough choice, because to me, being Catholic was never much about the Pope, or even the useless rituals Korean Churches have. (Seriously how many prayers are there?? I thought prayers came from your heart, not from words you recite without thinking) It was about Pere Rene, who was one of the survivors of the attacks on French priests in Algeria, and who still believed in God after the horror he went through and witnessed. It was about Soeur Danielle, who devoted her life to providing education to children in NDB through the church-run kindergarten. It was about those Easter and Christmas celebrations we had at the priest’s house with all the members of the small NDB Catholic community, and about baking cakes (or at least helping Mom bake them) all night long to share with them. It was about singing to the sound of tam-tams in the church, despite the sometimes not-so-talented choir.

It just pains me to know that after everything the Catholic church has gone through, frankly, it hasn’t changed much from the Crusades era. And we all know how that went.

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